Health care ethics and health law in the Dutch discussion on end-of-life decisions: A historical analysis of the dynamics and development of both disciplines

Loes Kater, Rob Houtepen, Raymond De Vries, Guy Widdershoven

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7 Citations (Scopus)


Over the past three or four decades, the concept of medical ethics has changed from a limited set of standards to a broad field of debate and research. We define medical ethics as an arena of moral issues in medicine, rather than a specific discipline. This paper examines how the disciplines of health care ethics and health care law have developed and operated within this arena. Our framework highlights the aspects of jurisdiction (Abbott) and the assignment of responsibilities (Gusfield). This theoretical framework prompted us to study definitions and changing responsibilities in order to describe the development and interaction of health care ethics and health law. We have opted for the context of the Dutch debate about end-of-life decisions as a relevant case study. We argue that the specific Dutch definition of euthanasia as 'intentionally taking the life of another person by a physician, upon that person's request' can be seen as the result of the complex jurisdictional process. This illustrates the more general conclusion that the Dutch debate on end-of-life decisions and the development of the two disciplines must be understood in terms of mutual interaction.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)669-684
Number of pages16
JournalStudies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C :Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2003


  • Ethics
  • Euthanasia
  • History
  • Law
  • Professions
  • The Netherlands

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